Medical cannabis advocates are keen to see if Sajid Javid’s appointment as UK health secretary means he will continue his work from 2018 when he helped change the law on medicinal cannabis prescriptions.
Since cannabis was rescheduled, UK patients have been able to get access to medical cannabis, but very few have been prescribed it through the National Health Service (NHS), leaving many to fork out hefty fees to private clinics.
“If I were Sajid Javid, my first port of call would be to look at ensuring that unlicensed cannabis-based products for medicinal use are funded on the NHS, for children who really did trigger the rescheduling, and who have these severe forms of childhood epilepsy that are not responding to conventional treatments,” said Amber Moore, senior research and policy officer at the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group.
While rescheduling opened up private clinics, they are more expensive because it’s still difficult to get access to medical cannabis, as the UK government considers it as dangerous as fentanyl products.
The difficulty of obtaining cannabis for study in clinical trials, along with the high cost, is one reason there are very few licensed medical cannabis products available, experts argue.
What can he do?
There are a number of things Javid (pictured above) can do to facilitate the issuing of medical cannabis prescriptions, according to cannabis expert and neurologist Mike Barnes.
They include letting family doctors prescribe, initiating liaisons between the various government agencies that deal with cannabis, and asking the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to consider approving cannabis as a plant rather than a pharmaceutical.
“Hopefully now that he’s health secretary, he can help turn what he did as home secretary into reality, ” Barnes said.
But with the number of Covid-19 cases in the UK rising again, some experts are sceptical whether Javid will be able to work on much else. Indeed, Javid himself is in self-isolation after reporting at the weekend that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, despite having had two vaccinations.
“We’re still managing our way through a pandemic, the public policy bandwidth is quite limited in terms of what can be done,” said Steve Moore, strategic counsel for the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis. “I think the impact of Javid’s appointment is quite small because the barriers are more to do with clinical issues than they are with political issues
“The issue at the moment in the UK is that medicinal cannabis products that people would like to access are unlicensed medicines. In order to open up access to those kinds of medicines, government ministers will have to override the decisions of their own regulators.”
Javid was appointed health secretary three weeks ago after the forced resignation of former minister Matt Hancock.
– Moriah Costa CBD-Intel contributing writer
Photo: Gareth Milner